Menu Items

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chili garlic salt


Please pass the salt. 
Salt is a necessary component, if not the most necessary component, in cooking. It enhances and balances flavor. In baking it adds structure to the dough by strengthening the gluten, among other things. And it's been a food preservative for centuries. The list goes on - and we undoubtedly consume too much of it.

This is a way to not only add the salt component to your cooking but also add tons of flavor. I found this recipe from La Parilla: The Mexican Grill by Reed Hearon. Think of it like Mexico's version of Herbes de Provence or Garam Masala. It's one of many seasoning mixtures used in Mexican cuisine and are called Recados. It's been indispensable in my kitchen. I've been making it for years and can't imagine not having some on hand.


To start you need a few ingredients, a food processor and an old coffee grinder. If you're lucky and live in areas that have Mexican grocery stores you'll find everything you need. Or look for gourmet stores or ethnic grocery stores as they sometimes carry a good selection of Mexican ingredients. Worst case scenario you can always order these items online.

My recipe makes about 3 cups of finely ground chili garlic salt. It's basically the same recipe as in the book but I doubled everything and added arbol chilies. Plus I grind it finer so it yields less. I've made it with up to four different types of dried chilies with success so I think you can safely mix and match to create your own custom flavor. But don't omit the chipotle if you can help it. That's the base of the flavor which gives it a subtle smokiness.


CHILI GARLIC SALT
(adapted from the recipe 'Chipotle Rub' by Reed Hearon)

INGREDIENTS
50 cloves of peeled, fresh garlic
10 dried chipotle chilies
10 dried ancho chilies
10 dried arbol chilies
1/2 cup dried Mexican oregano
3 cups Kosher salt
canola oil for frying the chilies

EQUIPMENT
food processor
old coffee grinder
protective gloves (such as latex or plastic)


METHOD
Preheat oven to lowest setting around 170˚F.

1. TOAST THE CHILIES

Toasting the chilies brings out the flavor and also crisps them a bit so they grind up more easily. First heat about 3/4" of oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or pan to med-hi. You don't want it to smoke because it's very easy to burn the chilies. Burnt chilies are NOT what you want here so watch the heat. Using tongs, place 2 or 3 chilies in the oil and toast each side for a few seconds. You might have turn them a few times to get them evenly toasted. They will puff up and sizzle. Take them out and let drain on some paper towels until cooled. Repeat with the rest of the chilies. Time may vary depending on the moisture content of the chilies. Anchos usually have a bit more moisture than chipotles or arbols and will take a little longer. Your house will be filled with the intoxicating aroma of toasted chilies.





2. TOAST THE OREGANO:

While the chilies are cooling toast the oregano. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet (such as cast iron) on medium. Add the oregano and dry toast until slightly smoking and fragrant, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

3. SEEDING THE CHILIES:

This is the part where you really want to protect your hands. WEAR GLOVES! Seriously. You'll be sorry if you don't. Aside from accidently touching your eyes (or other sensitive parts) with fingers covered in chili oil, your fingers will burn, too. I did this once and spent the evening with my hands submersed in yogurt to help ease the burning pain. Hilarious, yes, but fun? No.

I'm not super picky about getting every single seed and vein out of the chilies as it doesn't make a colossal difference in flavor. But basically you want to open up the chilies by tearing off the stem and splitting them down the side. You can then just shake out the seeds and remove any excess veins inside. Then tear them up and toss into a food processor.

4. PROCESS THE WHOLE LOT:

Working in two or three batches, place everything (except the salt) into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process into a coarse, sand-like mixture. You will probably have to pulse it a few times, scraping down the bowl as you go. Then add the salt and process for a few seconds more.






Next pour mixture out on to a large jelly roll pan or large roasting pan and spread out evenly. Place in the middle of the oven and let it dry out for a few hours. It needs to be bone dry before grinding.


When the mixture is completely dry you can do one of two things. If you have the space in your spice drawer (as you'll have about six cups), store the unground mixture in an air-tight container and grind finely as needed. Or just grind it all now. I have done both but make sure you store it in an air-tight container to keep it fresh as it will last a long time. I have an old coffee grinder I use for grinding spices which is perfect for this task. Even if you don't have and old one just go out and buy a new one. They're cheap and a very useful gadget to have.


When you're finished store the chili garlic salt in an airtight container. I use one of those glass storage jars with the clamping latch-lid. So, now that you have three cups of chili garlic salt what do you do with it?

USES (Remember it IS a salt so don't go overboard with it.)

  • Sprinkle on meats, fish, poultry where you would normally use plain salt. - I always season our steaks and hamburgers with it and it adds so much more flavor. If I don't use it they just taste kind of flat. After coating a whole chicken with olive oil I'll rub it with chili garlic salt before baking.
  • After buttering an ear of corn sprinkle a little on and give it a little squeeze of lime juice - so good!
  • Add it to soups, stews or braises for a deeper flavor
  • Add to hummus to fortify the garlic and add little smokiness
  • Sprinkle a little on your eggs and top with a little cotija cheese or maybe greek feta and salsa
  • When I make corn tortillas I'll mix in a pinch or so to the masa (dough) to give it more flavor
Be creative! One thing you might as is "is it hot?". And the answer is - barely. Think of it more as a garlic salt with subtle smoky and nutty flavor. Just use it wherever you might use regular salt to season your food.